College basketball preseason top 25: 15-11

It is the end of October so that means college basketball is right around the corner. What teams should be looked at as the best of the best? This is the third installment in the top 25 rundown. For teams 20-16 click here.

15. Cincinnati Bearcats

College basketball preseason top 25

Gary Clark (Photo by downthedrive.com)

The Bearcats got into the NCAA Tournament yet again, but they can’t stay in the dance too long once they get there. They have only made it to the Sweet 16 twice in this millennium, 2001 and 2012, despite having a good team. With the talent they have on the roster this season, they should be able to get back to the Sweet 16 for the second time under Mick Cronin.

In the frontcourt, Cincinnati will have two really good players eating up most of the minutes. Gary Clark was the AAC Defensive Player of the Year last season and also poses an offensive threat in the post. He averaged 10.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game in 2016-2017 and is in store for a big senior season. Kyle Washington is another key post player that had a solid first year at Cincinnati after transferring in from N.C. State. Washington averaged 12.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game and also gave another three point shooting threat, shooting 35.9% from deep. Nysier Brooks, Quadri Moore and Tre Scott will be asked to fill in any minutes that are left over.

There is a new face in the back court. Cane Broom sat out last season after transferring from Sacred Heart. At Sacred Heart he averaged 23.1 points per game in the 2015-2016 season. He will add a scoring punch from the guard position that the Bearcats haven’t had in a long time. Flanking him will be Jacob Evans and Jarron Cumberland, who can both light it up as well. Evans averaged 13.5 points per game, while Cumberland set his mark at 8.3. Both can stretch the floor well and will open up space for the post players and Broom.  Justin Jenifer will likely keep his role as a backup, but has valuable experience. Freshman will have to help provide more depth to cope with injuries and foul trouble.

The key to the Bearcats team is defense and they will be strong in that department again. They have enough talent to get to a Sweet 16 so the only question is: Do they have the coaching?

14. Miami Hurricanes

College basketball preseason top 25

Bruce Brown (Photo by draftexpress.com)

Jim Larranaga has rebuilt the program again after losing a lot of the team after their great 2012-2013 season. Two seasons ago they made the Sweet 16, while last year they got knocked out in the first round. This season they have some NBA-level talent on their roster that can make it back to the Sweet 16.

Dewan Huell had a decent freshman season from his forward position, but is expected to take a huge jump up from his average of 5.8 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. Ebuka Izundu will play at the center position after playing 13 minutes per game last season. He is still raw, but with time could become a solid player. On the wing, Anthony Lawrence Jr. will be asked to do more. He scored 6.8 points per game last season. Rodney Miller, Chris Stowell and Deng Gak will compete for minutes and provide depth.

The guard position is loaded for Miami. Bruce Brown is back after averaging 11.9 points per game. He is good enough to play in the NBA. Ja’Quon Newton also returns to run the point. Newton can get his own shot and create for others, something that will be easier for him to do this season with so much talent around him. Chris Lykes and Lonnie Walker are two good freshman that should help make the production keep coming for the Hurricanes. Walker could get drafted in the 2018 NBA Draft as well and is really athletic.

There is enough talent to do damage in March, but can Larranaga get the job done?

13. Xavier Musketeers

College basketball preseason top 25

Chris Mack (Photo by wcpo.com)

Xavier made a surprise run in March to make the Elite Eight, but ended up losing to Gonzaga. They were a bubble team that mad the most of their opportunity, much like they do most years. With a lot of the key players back again, the Musketeers will be expected to do a lot.

Sean O’Mara is back for his senior season on the inside. He didn’t perform well all the time, but stepped up in the NCAA Tournament and can score and rebound from the post. Tyrique Jones is another interior player that stepped up late in the season. He can finish on the inside and play solid defense. Graduate transfer Karem Kanter can step out and hit mid range jumpers and rebound. Kaiser Gates is a stretch four who got better as the season went on and can provide a spark off the bench or start for the Musketeers and get buckets.

The big news for the Musketeers this offseason was the decision for Trevon Bluiett to return to school. He averaged 18.1 points per game last year and is moving up the all time ranks of Xavier scorers. He will get a chance to play in the NBA after the season concludes. J.P. Macura is also back for his senior season and adds a good scorer and defender. His energy can lift the level of the teams’ play up. Point guard Edmond Sumner is gone, but Quentin Goodin filled in nicely when Sumner was injured last season. Paul Scruggs and Naji Marshall are dynamic recruits who will be playmakers on the second unit. Scruggs is the most talented recruit that Xavier has ever had.

With so many key players returning for Xavier, including one of college basketball’s best in Bluiett, Xavier’s expectation should be another Sweet 16 appearance at the very least.

12. Florida Gators

College football preseason top 25

KeVaughn Allen (Photo by draftexpress.com)

The Gators made an elite eight last season, as Mike White has the program heading in the right direction. They have a few key players returning and a lot of good recruits to fill out the rest of the roster. If their stars can step up, they will be in contention in the SEC and can win some games in March.

John Egbunu is back to hold down the fort at the center position. He tore his ACL last season, so he will not be able to play until midseason, but he provides an athletic big who can defend and rebound. He will need to score more when he returns, but Florida will welcome the defense and rebounding. Kevarrius Hayes helped fill in when Egbunu went down last season. He averaged 6.2 points and 4.4 rebounds per game and will need to step it up again until Egbunu returns. Keith Stone and Gorjok Gak both got playing time last year and will need to progress. Chase Johnson, DeAundree Ballard and Isaiah Stokes are all freshman that will fight for minutes.

KeVaughn Allen is the leading returning scorer for Florida. Allen averaged 14 points per game last year with a good mixture of shooting and driving in his game. Chris Chiozza will take over starting point guard duties now that Casey Hill has graduated. Chiozza is quick and thrives in Mike White’s offensive system. Egor Koulachev and Jalen Hudson are transfers that can help score in bunches. Koulachev can hit a lot of shots from deep and help stretch the floor.

If Florida’s players can see an increase in production and weather the storm without Egbunu, they will be a very tough team to beat.

11. Villanova Wildcats

College basketball preseason top 25

Jalen Brunson (Photo by draftexpress.com)

Villanova had an early exit from March Madness last season when they lost in the second round. They do have some key losses, but have five players returning who averaged over 20 minutes per game. The Wildcats are the class of the Big East and should expect another big year.

Mikal Bridges is a little undersized, but does a lot of things to help Villanova in the frontcourt. He is a great wing who can get to the basket and shoot the three. He averaged 9.8 points per game, but has the capability to score more this season. Eric Paschall also returns to help out on the inside after a solid season. Omari Spellman was redshirted last season after having problems with the NCAA, but he was a highly touted recruit, who will be the Wildcats’ best post player. Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree is a four star recruit that will see minutes early in his career to relieve Spellman and others. Jermaine Samuels is an intriguing freshman wing player that will have to work his way into the mix.

Jalen Brunson, one of the best players in college basketball, is back to play point guard for Villanova. He averaged 14.7 points and 2.1 assists per game. He will need to do a better job of feeding the post and setting up teammates this season, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem for the star. Phil Booth didn’t play much last season due to knee tendinitis, but should be good to go this season. He is a good shooter that will likely be a starter this season. Donte DiVincenzo is a good defender that can get to the basket.

Villanova is a title contender if they can put it all together and stay healthy, but Brunson needs to get others involved to make it happen.

 

For teams 10-6, click here.

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2017 Dream Team: The Biggest Awards in College Basketball

Now that the 2016-17 college season has officially ended, it’s time to hand out the awards. ESPN had their annual College Basketball Hoophall Awards Night this past Friday, and here is who came out on top. All of these awards make up an unofficial dream team, if you will.

John R. Wooden Award

This award goes to college basketball’s most outstanding player, which happened to be Frank Mason III of Kansas. It isn’t by happenstance that he received this prestigious award.

College Basketball's Biggest Awards

Frank Mason III of Kansas wins the John R. Wooden Award (Photo Courtesy of AndoverLeader.com)

He wasn’t too elated about this achievement, which is understandable given the circumstances. He isn’t the player to be prideful about his individual success, but rather team success. Given that his team didn’t make it to the championship game, he said, “I know right now it probably sounds crazy, but it doesn’t mean much to me right now.”

In other words, his team comes before him, which is shown in his response to the award. Some people might be maddened by his “ungratefulness,” but in actuality, his perspective is purely that of a good leader and teammate.

The award is still well deserved considering his statistics for the season. Mason finished his senior year averaging 20.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game. He is versatile and shoots well from the outside. His clip is 47.1 percent from the arc and 49 percent from the floor. He led the Jayhawks to many key victories in the Big 12.

Scouts are concerned about his 5-foot-11 height. However, he is one of the deadliest shooters in the college game. It will be interesting to see where he ends up in the draft.

Julius Erving Award

This next award goes to the top small forward in the game, which was Josh Hart of Villanova. Hart was also named Big East Player of the Year for his outstanding play.

Senior Josh Hart of Villanova (Photo Courtesy of SI.com)

The senior averaged 18.7 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 33.2 minutes per game for the Wildcats. He shot 51 percent from the field and 40.4 percent from 3-point land. He is no doubt an efficient scorer and shows defensive toughness.

His years as a Wildcat have groomed him to be a presence in the NBA. He has worked his way up each year. He was named to the Big East All-Freshman team in 2014. Hart was named Big East Sixth Man of the Year as a sophomore. He helped lead his team to a National Championship during his junior year, which prepared him for a stellar senior season.

Although Villanova didn’t make a deep tournament run, they had a very successful season. Hart will likely be somewhere between the 20th-30th draft pick range. Some have speculated that the Portland Trailblazers will pick him up.

Jerry West Award

Malik Monk is a scoring machine. It’s no wonder he earned the top shooting guard award on Friday. The Kentucky guard was nothing short of incredible this year.

College Basketball's Biggest Awards

Malik Monk throws down a dunk for Kentucky (Photo Courtesy of thebiglead.com)

Jerry West himself was one of the great guards in his day. He played for West Virginia and led his team to a National Championship. His nicknames include “Mr. Clutch” and “Mr. Outside” for his clutch shooting capabilities and overall strength on the perimeter. Monk definitely fits the bill.

His scoring capabilities allowed him to have four games with 30 or more points, including 47 against North Carolina. He averaged 19.8 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. Coach Calipari had great things to say about the freshman.

“With Malik you’re talking about a superior athlete with skills and an ability to score that make him truly unique,” Calipari said. “What I love about Malik is that, as the season went on, he learned how to help our team win by doing more than just score. He became an efficient player who I believe will make an immediate impact at the next level.”

Monk earned SEC Freshman of the Year honors as well and declared for the draft just last week. He is predicted to be a top five overall draft pick this year.

Karl Malone Award

The Karl Malone award went to none other than Johnathan Motley of Baylor University as the nation’s top power forward.

College Basketball's Biggest Awards

Johnathan Motley of Baylor University (Photo Courtesy of USA Today Sports)

Motley’s statistics this season were quite impressive. He averaged 17.3 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. In their most recent Sweet 16 loss, he added 18 points and nine rebounds.

The junior has two things going for him. He is a great offensive rebounder with his length and athleticism. He also protects the basket very well, especially in Baylor’s 2-3 defense. Motley also has outstanding foot speed for his 6-foot-9, 230 pound frame.

Yesterday he declared for the NBA draft, but also will not be hiring an agent. He is expected to go in the top 40.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award

The fifth-year senior Przemek Karnowski was named the top center of the year. The Polish big man is a prowess in the post. He stands 7-foot-1 and 300 pounds, which is hard to guard. He also has great court vision and has an advantage on anyone in the college game because of his size.

College Basketball's Biggest Awards

Przemek Karnowski of Gonzaga (Photo Courtesy of newsday.com)

His statistics this year were respectable. He averaged 12.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. The Bulldogs went to him down the stretch in close games for his ability to make strong back-to-the-basket moves.

When asked about the award, Karnowski said, “It means a lot… all the hard work I put in throughout my whole life in basketball is paying off and I’m really happy about it.”

As far as the draft goes, many scouts aren’t truly worried about his basketball abilities. They are worried about his back. Karnowski missed a good chunk of his junior season due to bulging discs in his back, which could be a problem in the future.

All of these players are well-deserving of their awards after some impressive seasons. All are looking ahead to the draft and it will be fun to see where they end up.

 

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Way-Too-Early Top 10 For the 2017-18 Season

The 2016-17 season is officially over after what turned out to be a different season from what most people thought. However, isn’t that always the case?

We expected Duke to rein supreme yet again last year with one of the most talented rosters we had ever seen. They were ESPN’s number one ranked team in the way-too-early top 25 without question. College basketball proved for the millionth time that what is expected to happen never happens.

With seven months until the start of the 2017-18 season, we take a swipe at the way-too-early top 10 for next season.

1. Kentucky Wildcats 

You know the drill. We’ve seen this before. Kentucky’s freshmen stars are going off to the NBA (De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo) and being replaced with another bunch of talented studs. The Wildcats have the number one ranked recruiting class in the country yet again, bringing in five ESPN top 100 recruits. They also will have redshirt freshman Hamidou Diallo.

Even if these new guys don’t turn out to have the same star power as the players they’re replacing, Kentucky has players like Isaiah Briscoe (if he returns), Wenyen Gabriel and Isaac Humphries who could only step into bigger roles.

There’s no reason coach John Calipari and the Wildcats won’t be national title contender with a stacked incoming class and key returning players.

2. North Carolina Tar Heels 

College Basketball

UNC guard Joel Berry II drives in a game earlier this year (Photo/ Google images)

The Tar Heels are losing a significant amount of players, but hold on for a second. They are losing Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt and most likely ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson. However, they’re still UNC.

Many believe Joel Berry II will come back as well as forward Tony Bradley, who is one of the best rebounders in the country. If that’s the case, the Tar Heels would be poised for another late tournament run.

They will also have Elite Eight hero Luke Maye and freshman five-star shooting guard Jalek Felton. Both could have a significant impact on their success.

There are a lot of ifs, but as we’ve seen, Roy Williams can do magical things with ifs.

3. West Virginia Mountaineers

Besides losing seniors Tarik Phillip and Nathan Adrian, press Virginia is back. Guard Jevon Carter will take another offensive leading role, while forcing steals on defense. Forwards Esa Ahmad and Elijah Macon will be crashing the boards and running the floor both defensively and offensively.

With a Kansas team that will lose a lot of key players, could this be the year Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers take the regular season Big 12 title away from Kansas? It could be.

4. Louisville Cardinals

College Basketball

Louisville forward Jaylen Johnson celebrates their victory over Kentucky earlier this year (Photo/ Adam Creech)

Don’t be fooled by the Cardinals short stay in both the ACC tournament and the NCAA tournament. They are a prime defensive team and will gain three incoming freshmen from the ESPN top 100 and maintain almost the entire previous group.

 

With the exception of Mangok Mathiang, who is a senior, and Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel, who could leave for the NBA, Louisville is still poised to have another great season in 2017-18. If Mitchell and Adel stay, Louisville will be in a good place.

5. Gonzaga Bulldogs 

Enough is enough, Gonzaga is for real. The nation’s top defensive team will look to replace fifth-year senior Przemek Karnowski. The Bulldogs will hopefully look no further than Zach Collins, who could potentially leave for the NBA.

If Collins does return along with Wooden Award finalist Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga will be extremely good. Josh Perkins, Johnathan Williams, Killian Tillie and Silas Melson also all return to make a dangerous Bulldog team out for redemption.

6. Wichita State Shockers

The Shockers finished 31-5 and managed to jump all the way up to 15th in the BPI. It looks like they’re just getting started.

After they were given a 10 seed in the tournament, which many believed was highway robbery, the Shockers lost to Kentucky by one bucket in the round of 32. Don’t let that fool you.

Landry Shamet, who could possibly be the most underrated point guard in the country, along side sharp shooter Conner Frankamp, could take the team on another tournament run. This time they won’t be considered a Cinderella.

7. Florida Gators

College Basketball

Florida guard Chris Chiozza hits a game winning shot in Florida’s Sweet 16 victory over Wisconsin (Photo/ Courtney Culbreath)

The Gators are returning one of the best, if not the best, backcourt in the country in KeVaughn Allen and Chris Chiozza. They will look to top their Elite Eight appearance from this year.

Most of the core crew is still intact. They will add a top 10 recruiting class as well as two transfers.

The Gators are dangerous. This could have already been one of the nation’s best teams. With the addition of the incoming freshmen and transfers, they are only getting better. Third-year head coach Mike White doesn’t seem too fazed after following Billy Donovan and the greatest era in Florida basketball.

8. Villanova Wildcats 

Villanova will wave goodbye to a class that helped lift the Wildcats out of their slump in the 2010s, including Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins. Granted, these two are of major importance and have been throughout their years at Villanova.

However, the Wildcats have an ongoing star guard in Jalen Brunson. They also have Donte DiVincenzo, who improved his numbers immensely from his previous year, and looks to improve them next year as well.

Jay Wright’s team is resilient. What many might believe to be somewhat of a rebuilding year could be another year in the limelight.

9. Kansas Jayhawks

The Jayhawks will lose a lot of players, including national player of the year Frank Mason III and potential top five pick Josh Jackson. That gives room for guard Devonte’ Graham to flourish in an even bigger role.

The Jayhawks return sharp shooter Sviatoslav Mykhailuik on the wing and add top prospects Billy Preston and Udoka Azubuike. They will also add Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman, who was one of the top point guards in his class two years ago. Whatever happens, we all know one thing: Kansas will be good. They’re always good.

10. Duke Blue Devils

College Basketball

Duke big man Marques Bolden looks to be the new face of the Blue Devils down low after losing Harry Giles and Amile Jefferson (Photo/ Streeter Lecka)

It won’t be all doom and gloom for the Blue Devils next season. They’re still Duke. However, the Blue Devils are going to lose a lot of players starting with Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles, who were their two top prospects from last year. They will also lose senior captains Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones, who have been a source of stability over the past four years.

The Blue Devils do have some top prospects coming in, including Wendell Carter and Gary Trent Jr. There also rests the possibility of both Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard coming back for another year.

If they both chose to leave, the Blue Devils’ starting line up will most likely have no one older than a sophomore. Either way, don’t ever count out the Blue Devils.

 

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The Best Player in College Basketball: Josh Hart

Every year one player in college basketball sticks out above the rest. This doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the best NBA draft prospect, but this player is dominating the college game. Last year it was Buddy Hield who stole the show. This season the best player in college basketball is Josh Hart, the guard from Villanova.

Hart was a very important component of the 2016 National Champion Villanova Wildcats, but has elevated his game this season. He has led Villanova to a 26-3 record and kept them in position to get a number one seed on Selection Sunday. If the Wildcats are able to go far in the NCAA Tournament again, it will be because of Hart’s play.

Offense

 

Josh Hart

Josh Hart (vuhoops.com)

Overall, Hart does a little bit of everything for the Wildcats. Offensively he is best known for his scoring. With an average of 18.7 points per game, Hart leads his team in scoring, but does so efficiently. He is shooting 50% from the floor including 40% from behind the arc. Because of his ability to be strong while driving to the basket, and his ability to shoot from the outside, Hart can’t be completely shut down, as he has yet to score under 10 points in any game this season.

Passing is an underrated aspect of Hart’s game. He doesn’t play point guard, but he does a great job of setting up teammates for open shots. His 3.2 assists per game are very impressive for an off-ball guard. He does however, have a tendency to handle the ball well and calm the team down. Hart only turns over the ball 1.9 times a game, which is minimal in comparison to how many plays he makes.

Defense

 

Josh Hart

Josh Hart and Jay Wright (cbssports.com)

Defensively, Hart doesn’t back down from anyone. His length helps him defend well against other guards. He averages 1.5 steals per game, which is just one facet of his good defense. The most telling sign of his good defense is his defensive rating (an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions). His defensive rating ins 95.7. For a point of reference Kansas guard, Devonte’ Graham, who is known as a defensive stopper has a defensive rating of 103.5. Kentucky guard De’Aaron Fox has been compared to a lot of great defensive guards, but his rating, 96, isn’t as good as Hart’s.

 

Clutch

So Hart’s all-around game makes him an elite player, but what makes him the best player in college basketball is his ability to step up in Villanova’s biggest games. Hart scored 24 at Purdue early in the season, 37 against Notre Dame and 30 against Wake Forest. With those type of games against good competition you can count on Hart to deliver when his team needs him the most.

Hart is the biggest reason as to why Villanova has already had a great season and will be the reason that the Wildcats will have another successful March.

 

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We Just Witnessed the Greatest Sports Year Ever

Sports are cool, and they’re even cooler when a season ends with fireworks. Thankfully, in the last cycle of season championships, we were able to witness the greatest sports year ever.

From the 2016 college basketball National Championship, to the latest Super Bowl, none of the championships have disappointed. Each of them saw incredible comebacks or last-second scores. As fans, we are blessed to be able to watch all of these games unfold.

That said, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and reminisce in the previous year’s amazing culminations.

*Of the four major sports in the United States, and the two major college sports, only one doesn’t make the list. Sorry, NHL fans, the 2016 Stanley Cup was good, but not great enough to be mentioned on the list.*

Super Bowl LI

It seemed as though the states to the most northeast in the U.S. were rooting for New England, and the rest of the population became Falcons fans for one day.

Maybe it’s because Atlanta was foreign to the big stage. It seemed so weird seeing a team like Atlanta playing in the Super Bowl since we had become accustomed to seeing either Seattle, Green Bay, or New York represent the NFC for more than half of the Super Bowls played since 2006.

Greatest Sports Year

In Super Bowl LI, Tom Brady did what Tom Brady does- win Super Bowls. (Photo: Getty Images)

Maybe Atlanta became America’s team for one day simply because of the hatred spewed towards New England. The Patriots have made seven Super Bowls since 2001, and won five. New England has also been to the AFC Conference Championship game 11 times since 2001. Picking New England to make it to the Super Bowl has become routine for many NFL pundits because that’s just what they do.

Nevertheless, this Super Bowl just felt different. New England was the heavyweight that everyone had seen win before. Atlanta was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and the popular vote was in favor of the newbies.

No one saw Atlanta jumping out to a 21-3 lead at the half and a 28-3 lead as the third quarter waned. At this point, many fans just wanted to see a close game.

We should be careful what we wish for.

The Patriots scored a touchdown late in the third, and continued to mount a comeback in the fourth.

The final quarter was the equivalent to slowly watching a bottle of soda being shaken. The game continued to feel closer and closer, and before long, New England put so much pressure back into the game that the contest exploded to help make the greatest sports year we’ve seen.

In overtime, it was inevitable. Not only did the Patriots have momentum, but they also had history. It felt impossible for New England to lose the game. Coming back from a 25-point deficit and pushing the game into the Super Bowl’s first ever overtime? That’s just not a game New England loses.

Because of the incredible comeback by those darn Patriots, Super Bowl LI capped what was the greatest sports year of all time.

2017 College Football National Championship

In a narrative much the same as the Super Bowl, Alabama took on Clemson to be called college football’s undisputed champion. In this game’s case, there was no insurmountable lead that ended up being toppled. The game was tight the whole way, and was never separated by more than two possessions.

Clemson found itself down by two possessions twice, and each time it seemed like Bama was gonna keep Bama-ing. At one point, ESPN’s Football Power Index gave Alabama over a 90 percent chance to win the game.

But this is the greatest sports year we’ve ever seen, so hopefully you’re sensing a theme.

Clemson came back, led by crisp drives from Deshaun Watson. Watson may not have won the Heisman, but at least he got himself a ring. Watson completed a two-yard pass to Hunter Renfrow with one second left in the game to clinch a victory for the Tigers.

2016 World Series

Where do we start in this event? So many storylines developed by the time the series was all finished. The Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Finals after being down 3-1. Once the Cleveland Indians went up 3-1 on the Cubs, there was no way that would be blown, right?

Maybe Cleveland fans got what they deserved for making fun of the Warriors. #WellActually when a city has to root for the Browns, it deserves no other bad omens. The Indians didn’t catch that vibe.

Greatest Sports Year

Rajai Davis hit the most memorable home run in recent years. (Photo: FX Tribune)

Sure, our very own Matt Hagan knew the Cubs would win it all. However, since no one else did, the 3-1 series lead all but wrapped up the World Series.

The Cubs almost lost it. They had a 6-3 lead with less than two innings left to play. With the lead cut to two, Rajai Davis sent the world into hysteria with the craziest turn of events the World Series had ever seen.

Chicago had it all but won, yet in two seconds Cleveland was right back in it. A ball traveled faster than offseason Rob Gronkowski on the way to the club into the left field seats, while it seemed like it was in slow motion, even as slow as Tom Brady running the 40-yard dash in fashionable yet exotic khaki shorts.

Every baseball kid dreams of coming to bat in the tenth inning of the World Series game seven, and the Cubs had that chance. Chicago scored two, and took an 8-6 lead to end the top half of the inning.

Rajai Davis came back up in the tenth, and even delivered an RBI. The Indians didn’t have enough in them, as they fell short, 8-7. However, it still was one of the greatest World Series of all time.

2016 NBA Finals

The Warriors blew a 3-1 lead, and that remains a joke on social media to this day. When you think of Steph Curry, you think of triples galore, an outspoken wife and the fact that he was the MVP on a team that for the first time ever blew a 3-1 lead.

LeBron James put on the greatest performance of all time in a Finals series in the most historically-charged Finals series of all time. Kyrie Irving hit the most clutch shot of his life to clinch the win for Cleveland- in Golden State.

The 2016 NBA Finals will be a landmark for the NBA’s modern era. With super teams becoming more and more evident, this series will forever be known as the time the NBA’s Goliath was taken out.

2016 College Basketball National Championship

Marcus Paige was supposed to be the hero. He hit one of the greatest three-pointers you will ever see. Double-clutch layups are hard enough, but a double-clutch three is just stupid good.

With Paige’s shot, North Carolina tied Villanova, 74-74, with 4.7 seconds left. At that point, viewers of the game had to pick their jaws up from the floor. The shot was incredible.

But what Kris Jenkins did carried more water. A deep triple as time expired sent Villanova into absolute elation.

The Greatest Sports Year

Who knew that game would turn into the precursor to what was to come? With all the great games that happened in the past year, college basketball’s National Championship was my favorite. Everyone has their own favorite, and the games are probably split pretty evenly across the board.

This was a year that we will tell our children and grandchildren about. It was a year that probably will never be topped. We should all feel fortunate that we were alive to take it all in.

If anyone can make a DVD of all these games in it’s entirety, I will throw my money at you. So someone please do that.

 

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A Blue Christmas: College Basketball is Being Dominated by Teams in Blue

We all know how the lyrics to Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas go: “I’ll have a Blue Christmas without you, I’ll be so blue thinking about you.” After watching a thriller this weekend between two of the top blue teams in the nation, how could one not be thinking about the game between North Carolina and Kentucky? If we are discussing true blue, Duke is definitely in the conversation as well, and let us not forget about Villanova, the #1 team in the nation.

Kentucky Wildcats

Malik Monk takes on Kenny Williams III (review journal.com

Malik Monk takes on Kenny Williams III (review journal.com

Let’s start with the Kentucky Wildcats. There is one name we all need to be concerned with: Malik Monk. If you have not heard, he put up 47 points for the Wildcats with a 64% field goal percentage on the night. He made his final three-pointer to win the game against Coach Calipari’s wishes, who wanted Monk to drive on the last play. He shot it anyway, and Kentucky came away with the win. How is that for some freshman guts?

However, Monk is not the only talent that deserves recognition. De’Aaron Fox added 24 points on Saturday and he is averaging 15.9 PPG on the season. Isaiah Briscoe also added 10 points and Edrice Adebayo contributed 13 points before fouling out.

Kentucky is 10-1 on the season and still has a lot to prove. This is only their second win against a ranked team this year. They beat #13 Michigan State (who is no longer ranked) early on in November and lost to UCLA by 5 points who is led by standout Freshman Lonzo Ball. This is a key win on their resume as they head into conference play in January.

On Wednesday, the Wildcats will take on Louisville which will be another test of their abilities. Kentucky has won the last three in the series against the Cardinals, but the great part about basketball is that anyone can be beaten on any given day.

North Carolina Tar heels

North Carolina's Joel Berry II (goblueridge.net)

North Carolina’s Joel Berry II (goblueridge.net)

Now for the North Carolina Tar Heels, who were equally as impressive, but came up short. Joel Berry II was one point shy of a career high with 23 points. Josh Jackson put up a staggering 34 points and Kennedy Meeks also added 12 points. UNC played a great game, despite the outcome.

The name of the game was free throws and foul trouble. Berry and Meeks fouled out, and the Tar Heels missed seven free throws overall, which would have been the game right there. This is not a large worry for the Tar Heels though. Joel Berry II is just coming back from an ankle injury and they still had good production from their bench (Tony Bradley and Luke Maye added a combined 19 points).

Kentucky’s bench only had five points to add. It also could have been a very different outcome if Kenny Williams’ last second three-pointer hadn’t missed the mark.

This game was March Madness material, so one can only wonder what March will bring and if Malik Monk will be able to create similar performances in the games to come. Joel Berry II will hopefully continue to impress and Josh Jackson has been nothing short of thrilling. I know I will be counting down the days until February 9th when the Tar Heels take on Duke, another top team in blue.

Duke Blue Devils

Our third team up for discussion, the Duke Blue Devils, are 10-1 and the ACC is not going to be a walk in the park this year. Duke will have to take on Florida State, Louisville, Notre Dame and of course North Carolina before they can talk about dancing on the big stage come March. Luckily, the combination of Luke Kennard, Grayson Allen and Amile Jefferson has been sufficient to top Michigan State, Florida and Rhode Island early on. They also have Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson and Matt Jones who are making an impact, and are some names to definitely keep in mind.

I am reminded that the color blue often symbolizes depth and stability. The Blue Devils embody these characteristics and Coach Mike Krzyzewski brings in some of top recruiting classes each year. The point is, Duke is consistently above average and sports fans can look for that to continue this season as well. They are firing on all cylinders and they have depth that should logistically carry them far into the NCAA tournament.

Villanova Wildcats

Josh Hart of Villanova (fox sports.com)

Josh Hart of Villanova (fox sports.com)

This article would not be complete without mentioning the top-ranked team in the nation, Villanova. They sit at 11-0 and one man is doing most of the dirty work. They are led by Senior, Josh Hart who is averaging 20.1 PPG, 6.5 RPG and 3.7 APG while shooting 45.3% from behind the arc. Hart is aided by senior Kris Jenkins who is averaging 13.4 PPG and sophomores Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges are contributing good numbers as well.

Recall Jenkins is the player who hit the game winning shot against UNC last year to win the National Championship game. Needless to say, these Wildcats have talent and the experience. They also have key wins over Temple and Notre Dame that will only add to their resume when discussing bracketology.

As we approach Christmas, these teams in blue have gotten our attention and will continue to be all the talk leading up to March. It would be a very “blue” Christmas without these teams putting on the performance that they have in preseason matches.

And with that, Merry Christmas to all my fellow college basketball fans, and happy holidays!

 

 

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2016-17 Big East Basketball Preview

On the heels of Big East media day there is a lot of buzz surrounding the conference that produced the 2015-16 champion, Villanova. A conference compiled of non-FBS football schools finally had its major breakthrough.  However, there is still plenty to talk about 2016-17.

They’re Back!

So you thought Villanova was a one time deal? Wrong.  Despite the major losses of Daniel Ochefu and Ryan Arcidiacono the Wildcats are still very much a threat.  They were the overwhelming pick for the top spot in the preseason poll. Jay Wright’s reigning champions return the preseason player of the year in Josh Hart, championship hero Kris Jenkins and Jalen Brunson. Jenkins was voted preseason First Team All-Big East and Brunson was given honorable mention.

Kris Jenkins and the Wildcats cut down the nets in Houston. (Photo courtesy of usatoday.com)

Kris Jenkins and the Wildcats cut down the nets in Houston. (Photo courtesy of usatoday.com)

The team returns six players that played in all 40 games.  This includes sophomore Mikal Bridges. A highly touted recruit, Bridges could be the one to replace Arcidiacono’s production after a productive first tour. The team did take a serious blow in their quest to fill the void left by Ochefu.  Five star recruit Omari Spellman likely would have been in the starting five for the Wildcats, but the NCAA ruled him ineligible. This makes Eric Paschall the only notable addition to the team.  A Fordham transfer, he is the former 2014-15 Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year. He did practice with the team last year, thus is familiar with the system.

Despite the departed pieces of the current champs, Nova will have a successful season.  There is no reason that they should not win the regular season conference title. Even with all of the talent concentrated at places like Duke, Kentucky and Oregon, the Wildcats should be in the running for another NCAA title. At minimum they should make the Elite Eight. Anything other than that would be a let down.

Other Contenders

The Xavier Musketeers finished second in the preseason poll, right where they did in the 2015-16 standings. The Musketeers had an early exit from the NCAA Tournament due to Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig’s fall-away jumper in the second round. Chris Mack’s team loses two big bodies in Jalen Reynolds and James Farr, as well as former Indiana transfer Remy Abell.

Trevon Bluiett (5) and Edmund Sumner (4) are two of the best returnees in the Big East. (Photo courtesy of zimbio.com)

Trevon Bluiett (5) and Edmund Sumner (4) are two of the best returnees in the Big East. (Photo courtesy of zimbio.com)

The team does return Big East preseason first teamers Edmund Sumner and Trevon Bluiett. The two were the leading scorers on the team in 2015-16. Bluiett showed improvements in several statistical categories including a seven percent increase from deep to 39.8%. Sumner is an excellent distributor and will lead the team at the one this year while still grabbing more than three boards per game. Another key returnee would be Myles Davis, however his status for the season is uncertain as he is under an indefinite suspension. The team did add three  four star recruits, as well as Florida A&M transfer Malcom Bernard who averaged 14.4 points and 7.0 rebounds along with 2.3 steals per game. Bernard could help the Musketeers on both ends of the floor in place of Abell.

Third in the poll are the Creighton Blue Jays who added Marcus Foster from Kansas State. After sitting out the 2015-16 season, Foster is ready to contribute. Foster would be on the receiving end of Maurice Watson Jr. The former transfer is a prolific creator for those around him. Watson Jr. led the Big East in assists last season after transferring from Boston.

With no notable recruits Foster, Watson Jr. and fellow returnee Cole Huff will be counted on to lead the team in 2016-17.  All three are transfers which have become a key part of Greg McDermott luring players to Omaha. Senior Isaiah Zierden will also play a key role.  He was among the teams leading scorers last year and his advanced stats show that he also had an impact on the defensive end.

Creighton Blue Jays Transfer Players
PlayerFormer School
Maurice Watson Jr.Boston
Marcus FosterKansas State
Cole HuffNevada
Kaleb Joseph*Syracuse
*Not eligible for 2016-17 season.

Georgetown, Seton Hall and Butler are all possible contenders, but not likely to make much noise.  Seton Hall won the Big East tournament but lost Isaiah Whitehead early to the NBA. John Thompson’s Hoyas did not even crack the AP top 25 last season. Butler lost two program staples in Roosevelt Jones and Kellan Dunham to graduation.  Of these three, Butler had the most success last year, but also lost the most going into this season.

Off the Map

The Providence Friars were a power packed team in 2015-16. Ben Bentil and Kris Dunn left early for the NBA as they should have. Dunn was one of the most prolific point guards in the country as a junior. Bentil stepped up and led the team in scoring and rebounds.

With their exit, Providence loses nearly half of its 74 points per game. They will rely on Rodney Bullock and Kyron Cartwright for their team identity.  The only other notable addition is four star recruit Alpha Diallo. Diallo possesses the ability to move the ball on the wing, but will need to improve his shot if he wishes to impact the Friars season. The degree of difficulty to replace two talents like Bentil and Dunn likely means a rebuilding year for Providence.

 

Top Five Sophomores to Skip the 2016 NBA Draft

Nowadays the one-and-done is the pinnacle of college basketball. Players are looked down upon if they play two, three or even four years in college. The reality is that some players could benefit from a longer stay in the amateur basketball world to further develop their game. The schools also receive the benefit of the production of the player for an extended period of time. Here is a list of the five most impactful players to return to school for their sophomore season. It is important to consider both the player’s abilities as well as the context of the school to which they are returning.

Next Page

 

Draft Deadline Decisions: Dropouts and Draftees

The deadline for players to withdraw from the NBA Draft and remain eligible for collegiate competition was Wednesday, May 25th. Some decisions were made that will greatly affect the upcoming season of college basketball. Here is a list of some of the most notable draft decisions and the effects that the player staying or leaving will have on the school:

 

Josh Hart, Villanova

Hart’s return means that Villanova is in excellent shape for the upcoming year. They certainly will miss Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu. Arcidiacono was the team’s leader in assists as well as the third leading scorer. Ochefu was the team’s leading rebounder as well as fourth leading scorer. What the team brings back with this decision, though is a multi-faceted guard. Hart averaged 15.5 points per game, 6.8 rebounds and also 1.2 steals per game.  He is a very dynamic player on both ends of the floor. He will be complimented by Kris Jenkins decision to return as well as the continual growth of Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges. Top recruit Omari Spellman could also play a role. Villanova is in a good spot for the upcoming season, and with this return, is a top ten team to start the season.

 

Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall

Isaiah Whitehead is a devastating loss for the Pirates. (Photo courtesy of nytimes.com)

Whitehead’s decision to stay in the draft was the second most important decision in Big East play, next to Josh Hart’s. Last season, Whitehead averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game. He also averaged 1.4 blocks and 1.2 steals each contest.  Seton Hall loses one of their most dynamic players and will be a completely different team without the guard returning for his junior season.

 

Malik Newman, Mississippi State

Malik Newman was set to be one of the first one and done players in Starkville.  Now, not only is that no longer a reality, but also ESPN’s Jeff Goodman is reporting that Newman is looking to transfer from Mississippi State.  He came in under Ben Howland as one of the most highly touted recruits in the nation, but had a relatively lackluster, injury plagued freshman season. Newman’s return would bolster the recruiting class that Howland put together along with other returnees Quinndary Weatherspoon and I.J. Ready. At this point, Newman has asked for a release to transfer.

 

Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin

Much like Villanova, Nigel Hayes’ return completes a prolific off-season for the Badgers. There were a lot of questions about this team last season with the retirement of coach Bo Ryan, but a Sweet 16 run put a stop to those. Wisconsin returns several key players, in addition to Hayes: Bronson Koenig was the second leading scorer on the team and also added shooting range that kept defenses spread out. He demonstrated this in the tournament game against Xavier. Ethan Happ is looking to build on a phenomenal freshman year in which he averaged 12.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. Hayes returns as the clubhouse leader in scoring and assists and he is also the second leading rebounder behind Happ. Wisconsin is a complete team and will be in the top 5 in the preseason rankings due to this return.

 

 

Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson

Clemson should be ecstatic to return a player the caliber of Jaron Blossomgame. (Photo courtesy of foxsports.com)

The aptly named player had a flourishing junior campaign and will grace the ACC with one last run.  He showed improvements across the board.  Blossomgame averaged 18.7 points per game to go along with 6.7 rebounds as well as 1.3 blocks. Not to mention that his percentage from behind the arc skyrocketed from 28.8% to above 40%.  Clemson will return three double-digit scorers in Blossomgame, Donte Grantham and Avry Holmes as well as third leading rebounder Sidy Djitte. While the team may not be the most powerful in the ACC, the Tigers will undoubtedly have something to roar about come Tournament time.

Melo Trimble, Maryland

Melo Trimble was not projected to be a first round pick but coming back may not have been the best decision for him. Trimble was the team leader in scoring and assists, but he is the only of the top five scoring options to come back to College Park. After the losses of Jake Layman and Rasheed Sulaimon per eligibility as well as Robert Carter and Diamond Stone to the NBA draft, Mark Turgeon’s squad looks extremely depleted in comparison to the team that began last year at a fiery 15-1. Trimble will attract a significant amount of attention from opposing defenses and it will be left to the incoming freshman class to carry the weight of the team.

 

Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey and Chris Boucher, Oregon Ducks

There should be some sort of celebration in Eugene because the Oregon Ducks are one off the biggest winners at the Draft Deadline. Their core of Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, and Chris Boucher all three declared and all three have decided to return to school. This immediately makes Dana Altman’s team the team to beat in the PAC-12 for the upcoming season. The team is losing Elgin Cook and Dwayne Benjamin, but this decision gives them three of their top four scorers on a team that already achieved a number one seed. These are also three of their top 5 rebounders, and Boucher was second in the NCAA in blocks this past season. The bar will be set very high for them next season.

The Biggest Impact Players to Withdraw from the NBA Draft

The 2016-2017 NCAA Basketball season is already shaping up to be a great one.  Over the past few weeks, there has been several early entries into the draft.  A handful of underclassman have since removed their names and are electing to stay for another year.  Here are the players that need to be highlighted as the best to opt for return so far:

Kennedy Meeks

Kennedy Meeks has slimmed down significantly since arriving in Chapel Hill but is still an overpowering big man. (Photo courtesy of foxsports.com)

 

Meeks did not have a relatively decent statistical year.  He averaged just under ten points per game along with almost six rebounds.  He was a major part of the team, though, playing his role well enough to help the Tar Heels to the NCAA Championship.  His size and strength give him the ability to impose his will on defending players.  He should have an increased scoring and rebounding role with a few graduates and the decision of Justin Jackson to come.  Losing his main distributor to graduation, Marcus Paige, will be a major blow.  Brice Johnson leaving the team due to graduation will also affect Meeks’ touches.  Meeks will have an expanded role on the team next year and will be a force to be reckoned with in the ACC.  The only question is who will be getting him the ball inside.

Xavier Rathan-Mayes

The point guard could be a part of one of the best teams in Leonard Hamilton’s tenure with the Florida State Seminoles.  He averaged 11.8 points per game as well as 4.4 assists.  He will be the ring leader for a team that already returns Dwayne Bacon.  His talented distributing abilities will help young recruits Jonathan Isaacs and Trent Forrest to develop quickly.  There will be no need for them to have the pressure of the team’s expectations on them which will lead to the flourishment of their abilities and true growth as players.  The experience that Rathan-Mayes brings to this relatively young, but talented team will be something to look forward to for ‘Noles fans in the upcoming season.

Kris Jenkins

It is essentially impossible to not think about the shot in the National Championship when you hear Kris Jenkins.  Now we get to see him come back for one more run with Nova.  The junior averaged 13.6 points per game with 3.9 rebounds as well.  The team does lose Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu to graduation, but Josh Hart’s decision is still in question.  Having Jenkins back to lead Nova again is good, but perhaps this decision could manipulate Josh Hart into coming back for the Wildcats, which would be great.  With Phil Booth and Jalen Brunson sticking around this is poised to be a dangerous team to repeat as National Champions.

Ivan Rabb

Ivan Rabb is the biggest player to return and will certainly be in the driver’s seat for the Golden Bears next season. (Photo courtesy of californiagoldenblogs.com)

 

The California five-star recruit was the mocked as one of the highest possible draft picks to return to school for another year.  The six foot ten forward indicated to ESPN that he flip flopped on the decision quite a few times.  The sophomore-to-be had stellar averages (12.5 PPG, 8.6 RPG) and despite the loss of Ty Wallace and Jaylen Brown, has decided that the best thing for him to do is to get better.  He sees his best chance for development at the college level.  He will be a top pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, barring a horrendous injury.  More importantly in the present, he will be a leading candidate for AP Player of the Year at the start of the season and can guide the Golden Bears back to the NCAA tournament.  Perhaps he would like to avenge the embarrassing loss to Hawaii in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

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